NAIROBI, Kenya – Navy SEAL snipers on the fantail of a destroyer cut down three Somali pirates in a lifeboat and rescued an American sea captain on Easter Sunday. The surprise nighttime assault in choppy seas ended a five-day standoff between a team of rogue gunmen and the world’s most powerful military that began when 53-year-old freighter Capt. Richard Phillips was taken hostage Wednesday by pirates who tried to hijack the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama.
The Vermont native was held on a tiny lifeboat that began drifting precariously toward Somalia’s anarchic, gun-plagued shores.
The operation, personally approved by President Barack Obama, quashed fears the saga could drag on for months and marked a victory for the U.S., which for days seemed powerless to resolve the crisis despite massing helicopter-equipped warships at the scene.
A fourth pirate surrendered after boarding the Bainbridge earlier in the day and could face life in a U.S. prison.
Phillips was not hurt in several minutes of gunfire and the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet said he was resting comfortably on a U.S. warship after receiving a medical exam.
Obama said Phillips had courage that was "a model for all Americans" and he was pleased about the rescue, adding that the United States needs help from other countries to deal with the threat of piracy and to hold pirates accountable.
With news of the rescue, Phillips’ 17,000-ton ship, which docked with the 19 members of his crew Saturday in Mombasa, Kenya, erupted into wild cheers.
Pirates are holding about a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members, according to the Malaysia-based piracy watchdog International Maritime Bureau. Hostages are from Bulgaria, China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Tuvalu and Ukraine, among other countries.